Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/180

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170
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

science of botany into a school for the children of the lowest classes. Prof. Henslow's object was to break in upon the slavish and stupefying routine of the schoolroom, and to substitute, for the endless drudgery of mere lesson-learning from books, the exercise of the childish faculties upon Nature itself. His object was to awaken the mind to spontaneous action, to open the observant faculties, and expand the reasoning powers, rather than to impart second-hand knowledge, and to load the memory with the contents of books. And this he succeeded in doing. He introduced a study which excited their interest, and "furnished them with innocent and rational amusement in those leisure hours which so many servants and poor idly throw away when their required work is done;" which "tends to raise their thoughts to the contemplation of the Creator, and to make them mindful as well as observant of that infinite wisdom and goodness of which they see everywhere around them such abundant proofs," and which, moreover, taught them the use of their minds in inquiring, comparing, judging, and thinking for themselves.

It is to be observed that Prof. Henslow did not, by any means, undertake to establish a botanical school; in fact, but a very small portion of the time was given to the subject. His habit was to attend the school regularly every Monday afternoon, for the purpose of giving a lesson in botany from an hour and a half to two hours in length, the main work of the pupils being by themselves and out of school. The pupils varied in age from eight to eighteen, and the class was limited to 42 in number. Into the details of his teaching we have no space here to enter. The whole essence and value of it consisted in the regular and constant study of plants themselves. The pupils ranged the woods and fields of Hitcham for specimens, and their work consisted in dissecting, analyzing, and classifying them. The class was graded; the older pupils became teachers, and the younger were promoted as they became proficient in their work. The children made herbariums of dried plants, and one pupil-teacher "actually collected in rural strolls, and afterward dried and correctly named, more than 250 specimens of plants." The children brought their botanical acquirements to bear to enrich the horticultural show, to which reference has been made. They brought their dried collections and fresh, wild-flower nosegays, and competed for the prizes offered for the largest collections, the most tasteful arrangements, and the most accurate descriptions. In 1858, at the July show, 50 children competed for the "wild-flower nosegay," and 26 received prizes.

It is almost superfluous to say that this invaluable experiment in education was not an example of "compulsory education." Compulsion implies resistance; a resort to brute force, when higher forces fail, or are not tried. But the coercive system forces the question upon us, Is anybody fit to teach who cannot wield the higher agencies of control? Should not the very first qualification of a teacher of the young